Chemical reactions between fluids and minerals create the environments that are uniquely characteristic of Earth’s surface. For example, chemical weathering reactions support the growth of soils and organisms and regulate the flow of elements to the oceans. The rates of these reactions also control the release and storage of natural and human-derived contaminants. Over geologic timescales, mineral-fluid reactions have helped to maintain a mostly habitable planet. Over human timescales, these reactions will regulate our ability to use Earth’s resources, such as soils, waters, and minerals.
Our research focuses on the rates of chemical reactions that occur at Earth’s surface and in the shallow subsurface. Because the rates of most mineral-fluid reactions are fairly slow, they control the transfer of elements between important reservoirs. In order to quantify the rates of chemical reactions and to determine how these rates vary in response to changes in hydrologic, chemical and biological parameters, we use a combination of geochemical tools including isotope geochemistry, geochemical modeling, and geochronology to address the following themes: (1) defining the controls on biogeochemical processes across a spectrum of environments from natural soils and sediments to contaminated groundwater to geothermal systems; (2) finding new approaches to use mineral-fluid reactions to safely store carbon dioxide in the subsurface; and (3) development of isotopic approaches to study mineral-fluid reactions in the environments of Earth’s past. To support these research themes, we have constructed a new mass spectrometer and clean lab facility capable of high precision geochemical and isotopic measurements.
For more information about our research, please contact Professor Kate Maher.